“The Moth Radio Hour” host and author Tara Clancy shares the pivotal moment when she found her voice.
– KEYS SOULCARE
From her unmistakable Queens-born accent to her skill at peeling back the layers of “everyday” moments so they reveal their universally touching (and often, hilarious) core, The Moth Radio Hour host Tara Clancy knows a good story when she sees one.
Her new memoir, The Clancys Of Queens, chronicles her life growing up in the country’s most diverse county while navigating her own identity. As it turns out, it wasn’t always easy.
What is it about you that makes this your perfect career?
I like to say that I was born in New York dive bars. As young as I can remember, I can picture a Pac-Man machine in one of them [where I’d be a lot]. I would have rather listened to old people tell stories next to it than play. Stories were high art to me.
You’ve shared in interviews that you tried to “lose” your Queens accent in college.
College was the first time I realized that I was being treated differently. With this accent, people did not presume me to be a neurosurgeon. Quite the opposite.
Like so many people in college, I made a point to lose it — what we call code-switching now. Off my train stop, I’d talk like me. Off the school stop, I’d use “academia-speak” and throw in words like “hegemony,” you know?
You’ve also said that someone laughing at you convinced you to stop covering it up and own your accent.
I studied Shakespeare in college. A professor asked me to read something… and then just openly started laughing. It was a rip-off-the-Band-Aid moment, for sure.
I thought, ‘Ok, people are laughingat you. What are you going to do about it?’ I remember feeling embarrassed and walking over to my family’s bar where I worked in college. There the issue was that everyone wanted my fancy “hegemony” words out — no putting on airs, and whatnot. The act I’d been putting on came crashing down.
What has that moment taught you since?
Well, for one, that the people that were laughing at me to my face would be laughing at me anyway. I couldn’t run from that. And that if we all try to blend in and lose our accents, so to speak, that the world would sound so boring.
After our chat, we got a few tips from Tara about learning how to value and share our own stories.
Tara’s Tips For Finding Your Voice & Living Your Story
Know your voice’s value. “I think it’s good for people to hear that you can have my accent and still be a nerdy, NPR, science geek, liberal, progressive, non-conforming person,” says Tara, who emphasizes that bringing our diverse experiences into any space is a gift to all of us.
Use its power for good. “Before writing my book, I remember being in a bookstore and realizing that the last notable [title] I could find about a working class woman living in New York was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn… andit’s about 74 years old,” says Tara. She notes that writing her book wasn’t about being the next “best” story, but rather “getting the ball rolling” and convincing others that if she could do it, they might, too.
Say it like you’d say it. “Get to know and respect the sound of your own voice,” says Tara, who often records herself, then transcribes and edits from there. “Everything from its rhythm to how it sounds in different situations is a powerful thing.”
Note your inner wins, too. “Imagine you are in a crowded kitchen with your family and friends. Pots are banging, everyone is loud,” says Tara of a storytelling exercise she’s often shared with students. “Before you share, ask yourself, ‘What’s most real for me about this story? How did it change me? How am I growing?’ That’s all great stories are.”
Consider life from others’ POV, too. “For some parts of our lives, we’re surrounded by people that look like, sound like, or are like us,” says Tara. “Stepping outside of that to really live your life is not always pretty or easy. But for me, seeing myself as unique within the context of all kinds of people, has [resulted in] invaluable personal growth and perspective.”
Did you read anything that connected to your story of raising your voice? Share what’s sticking with you in the comments!